Ryan faces confidence crisis


Reliever seeks to change direction in up/down year

Conine starts at third

June 05, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MONTREAL - He has so far endured a split season, divided evenly between brilliance and torture. Rookie reliever B. J. Ryan says his biggest need is regaining his confidence, regardless of whether that happens with the Orioles or at Triple-A Rochester.

Manager Mike Hargrove trusted him as recently as Friday night against the Montreal Expos. Ryan entered a3-2 game withtwo outs in the sixth inning and surrendered a two-run single. Ryan pitched well enough to get ahead of Expos catcher Brian Schneider but couldn't finish the job.

"I have to be confident enough in myself to get ahead in the count. I can't stand out there nibbling and trying to be too fine," said Ryan, a left-handed middle reliever considered by many scouts to be a future closer. "Then you get yourself in a position where you have to make a real good pitch. It's about having confidence."

Ryan has allowed his own or inherited runs to score in seven of his last eight outings after allowing runs in only one of his first 11 appearances. In six of his last eight appearances, he has surrendered his own runs, resulting in an ERA that has spiked to6.98.

The Orioles are split over what to do about the first stumble in Ryan's meteoric career. Ryan projects as a dominant left-handed reliever, one of the game's rarest species. But at24, Ryan has suffered a crisis of confidence since surrendering a game-ending home run to New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada onMay 5. Thought has been given about whether to option Ryan when Calvin Maduro leaves the disabled list within the next 10 days.

"I can't worry about that. I have to worry about what I'm doing to make myself better," said Ryan. "There are things I have to work on regardless of where I am. It's just a matter of being more aggressive, staying on top of the ball and throwing strikes."

Pitching coach Sammy Ellis has observed that Ryan needs to pitch more "up and down" instead of "spinning." His tendency to prematurely open his shoulders has resulted in a loss of velocity and command, which has most concerned Hargrove.

Reminded Ellis, who served as Cincinnati Reds pitching coordinator last season when Ryan was dealt by the Reds to the Orioles July 31 as part of a package for starting pitcher Juan Guzman: "This kid was in college less than two years ago. I think he's allowed some growing pains. He's going to be outstanding."

Ripken down, Conine up

Jeff Newman implied as much on Saturday night and yesterday wrote out his lineup card without Cal Ripken at third base. Newman said Ripken was open to a day off after playing the first six games of the road trip on artificial turf.

Newman and Hargrove discussed the possibility before Hargrove left the team Saturday morning to attend his son Andy's state championship baseball game and high school graduation in Cleveland.

"I left it up to him, and he felt like [a day off] would be a good idea," said Newman.

Ripken has hit safely in 11 of 15 games since returning from a four-game absence due to nerve inflammation and overall is batting .249 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs. He is tied with Mike Bordick for the team home run lead and five behind him for the RBI lead.

In search of offense, Newman started Jeff Conine rather than Mark Lewis in Ripken's place. Conine made his fourth start of the season and first since April 24 at the position.

"We did it to get a little more offense," said Newman, who returns the manager's chair to Hargrove tonight in New York. "It's nothing against Mark Lewis. But we've had a little trouble scoring runs recently, so we went with 'Niner."

The April 26 waiver claim of Lewis was designed in part to provide Ripken an experienced back-up, but the Orioles' recent slump prodded Hargrove and Newman to go with Conine.

Conine, who was 0-for-3 with a walk yesterday, is hitting .345 (10-for-29) over his last nine games, .349 (22-for-63) over his last 17 games and .323 (32-for-99) over his last 28 games. His .486 slugging percentage ranks fourth on the team behind Charles Johnson (.539), Bordick, and Albert Belle (.495). However, his utility status has limited him to 144 at-bats, eighth-most on the club.

Lewis has started eight games, including five at third base, since being claimed. He is 3-for-23 over his last eight games and has played sparsely since Ripken returned.

Around the horn

Yesterday's 1-0 loss was the Orioles' 13th one-run defeat this season, most in the American League. It also marked the first time they've lost after being tied through six innings. ... The Orioles have four home runs in four games this month, accounting for five of their six runs. In both April and May they hit 31 home runs. They averaged 6.0 runs per game in April but only 4.3 in May. ... The Orioles have not committed an error in their last five games. They have improved to fifth in the league in fielding percentage while committing more errors (33) than only Cleveland and Seattle.

O, no, Canada

With this past weekend's sweep by the Expos, the Orioles have lost 20 consecutive games in Canada:

Date Opponent Score

6-13-98Toronto L, 9-8

6-14-98Toronto L, 7-4

6-26-98Montreal L, 9-4

6-27-98Montreal L, 3-1

6-29-98Montreal L, 8-4

9-21-98Toronto L, 3-1

9-22-98Toronto L, 7-3

9-23-98Toronto L, 6-3

4-16-99Toronto L, 7-6

4-17-99Toronto L, 7-4

4-18-99Toronto L, 6-0

6-29-99Toronto L, 6-5 (10)

6-30-99Toronto L, 10-9 (10)

7-1-99Toronto L, 8-6

5-8-00Toronto L, 6-5

5-9-00Toronto L, 6-4

5-10-00Toronto L, 7-2

6-2-00Montreal L, 5-3

6-3-00Montreal L, 7-4

6-4-00Montreal L, 1-0

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